THE SHACK and Universal Reconciliation
Relationship, Rules and Reconciliation
Reconciliation means a change in “relationship.” The need for reconciliation presupposes estrangement between two parties (Matthew 5:23-24). Whereas they became enemies, two parties become friends again. Often, reconciliation needs to occur between humans, between friends, spouses, races, tribes, and nations. But reconciliation also needs to occur between people and God. Though Paul stated that the Colossians were “reconciled,” he noted that in their former state they had been spiritually “alienated” from God (Colossians 1:21-22). Because of our sinfulness we are all separated from God, and need to be reconciled with Him. As such, the doctrine of reconciliation is core to the Christian faith. As White remarks, “Since a right relationship with God is the heart of all religion, reconciliation, which makes access welcome and fellowship possible, may be regarded as the central concept in Christianity.”
In contrast to those who are “enemies of the cross of Christ” and “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (Philippians 3:18; 2 Timothy 3:4), the Bible calls faithful Abraham “the friend of God” (James 2:23; Romans 4:3). In their relationship to God, all humanity falls into two groups: they are either His friends or enemies. Either, they are reconciled to God, or they are not. The Shack therefore, is big on relationships.
In a conversation between members of the trinity and Mack, Sarayu tells him (though Papa might be speaking), “Mackenzie, we have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are a circle of relationship . . .” (The Shack, 122) Dismissing any idea of hierarchy or subordination amongst members of the trinity, Papa-Elousia later explains to Mack that, “Submission . . . is all about relationships of love and respect.” (The Shack, 145) The vaguely Christian underpinnings of the book, and its emphasis upon relationship on the one hand and its de-emphasis of rules on the other, requires that the connection between law and the Christian life be examined.
Rules and Relationships
In cavalier fashion, the novel dismisses the relevance of rules (law) to relationship (love). (The Shack, 7, 122, 123, 197-205) The “all-God-cares-about-is relationship” theory renders rules to be obsolete (“Kum Ba Ya”). Sarayu even states to Mack, “The Bible doesn’t teach you to follow rules.” (The Shack, 197) This statement reflects an antinomianism that contradicts both the words and spirit of Holy Scripture. As such, it begs questions and raises issues about the role rules play in relationships.
Question one: As taught by Jesus, is there any ingredient more important to relationship than love, first between people and God, and second, among people with each other? Endorsing the Great Commandment and associating love with law, Jesus said,
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Emphasis mine, Matthew 22:37-40, KJV).
There is no more essential ingredient to relationship than “love,” for as Paul put it, love is “the greatest” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
Question two: Can you, dear reader, think of any element more necessary in the definition of love (relationship) than laws (rules)? No matter how The Shack might spin it, relationships involve rules. Rules inform me where my rights end and another person’s begin. As a deterrent to sinful behavior which can hurt the lives of others, rules are a necessary guide. They tell us what’s right and what’s wrong. Ever hear of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), or read the hundreds of other rules in the Bible? Take adultery, for example. What if a man leaves his spouse and children to pursue a “relationship” with another woman? What arbitrates between those two competing relationships? They’re both relationships, aren’t they? Will laws? Will a judge? Or, do we simply endorse the moral chaos of self-indulgent free love? For the sake of arbitrating relationships, both the hierarchy and enforcement of law is needed. While it may not be that way amongst the members of the Holy Trinity in heaven, it certainly is necessary for us folks here on earth.
So like Jesus, the Apostle Paul combined law with the love, rules with relationship. He wrote:
Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Emphases mine, Romans 13: 8-10).
When defining the love of earthy relationships, rules cannot be jettisoned. Like Siamese twins, they cannot be separated. As Jesus and Paul indicated, rules (law) complement relationship (love). Did not Jesus say that upon loving God and one’s neighbor “hang all the law and the prophets”? The sin residing in us ever threatens our relationship with one another. With sinful and selfish dispositions, and sometimes knowingly, we choose to indulge ourselves at cost to others. Breaking rules destroys relationships. When that happens, relationships need to be repaired. When marriages become broken by adultery, when the Seventh Commandment is violated, reconciliation needs to happen in order for the marriage to survive. This is the real world in which we live, a world of broken relationships, and not the ethereal world of a Thomas Kincade painting. But the need for reconciliation exists not only among persons on earth, but also between individuals on earth and God in heaven.
To be continued. . . . .
"And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight." (Colossians 1:21-22)
1. Universal Reconciliation is the belief that every person who has ever lived is, or will ultimately be, either before or after death, reconciled to God. Historically, universal reconciliation leads to Unitarianism which denies the biblical Trinity. After all, if God saves all persons, who needs Christ and His atonement on the cross, or the application of salvation to the human soul by the Holy Spirit? Universalism makes the Trinity unnecessary!
2. R.E.O. White, “Reconciliation,” The Concise Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Edited by Walter A. Elwell, Abridged by Peter Toon (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991) 420. Morris determined that, “The basic idea of reconciliation is that of making peace after a quarrel, or bridging over an enmity.” See Leon Morris, The Cross in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965) 250.
3. White, “Reconciliation,” 421.
4. Over forty times The Shack uses the word “relationship(s).” Indeed, though perhaps overdrawn, exaggerated, and even at points, profaned, one of the strengths of the story is its emphasis on relationship.
5. Rules in Scripture exhibit God’s righteousness (i.e., justice), and are an essential aspect of relationships. Being sourced in His absolute authority and infinite wisdom, God’s law(s) orients mankind as to the good or evil of behaviors which either help or hurt others. Inherent within real love is right law.
God’s rules declare which behaviors best benefit how people should relate to Him and to each other. His guidelines objectify both right spirituality and morality. Because God is right, God is Righteous. Thus, God’s righteousness might be understood like this: Out of His love and concern for the relational wellbeing of humanity—God does desire that people to live in peace and harmony with one another—He after the eternal counsel of His infinite wisdom, designed rules to promote the harmony of humanity. God communicates His rules in the Bible (e.g., the Ten Commandments). Because He is righteous, God keeps His rules. He conforms to His own standards. Because He is absolutely righteous and just, one day God will bring humanity into account for how they obeyed the laws of love. He will judge the world. He will enforce the rules. “God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psalm 7:11; See Romans 2:5-16).
6. On this point, we must note how Scripture employs the images of adultery or harlotry to picture Israel’s breaking “relationship” with God (See Isaiah 1:21; Jeremiah 3:1; 23:10; Ezekiel 16:15-63; James 4:4.). In both its sexual and spiritual dimensions, adultery signals the breaking of relationship, and that is why God said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:15). So for violating the Seventh Commandment, Jehovah divorced Israel (Jeremiah 3:8).